Milano-Torino 2018 Preview

Another day, another Italian race and this time it is the oldest one-day event in the country: Milano Torino.

Last season saw a barnstorming Rigoberto Uran take the win after attacking quite early on the final climb of the day and holding on to the finish.

Cycling: 98th Milano - Torino 2017

A fast finishing Adam Yates could only manage second with Aru, who attacked even earlier than Uran, rounding out the podium. Will the Colombian manage to make it two in a row this year and three for his nation? Let’s have a look at what is in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Fans of the old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, the organisers have once again came up with a pretty similar route this year. There is a slight change in the middle of the day with a few more hills and an extra 14kms of riding to boot.

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Nonetheless, it should all come down to the final 30kms and the two ascents of Superga.

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On the first effort the riders will complete only 4.29km of the climb, making it ever so slightly steeper than when the climb is taken as a whole. Well, when I say that, the average gradient is 9.137% for that part of the climb. Compared to the 9.081% for the ascent as a whole then there isn’t much difference, I’m just being pedantic!

That’s about it for the route, nothing too exciting but the riders do make the race.

How will the day pan out?

The race tends to be very formulaic until we get to the first ascent of the Superga: a breakaway makes it up the road and is then controlled by the teams of the favourites and of those without a rider in the move. Fairly standard procedure.

However, we then have a few potential outcomes as to what could happen from there.

Given that the first passage crests with just under 20km to go, then it is very feasible that a counter attack launched here could make it all the way to the line. Of course, for it to succeed then many of the favourites’ teams would need to be represented. If not, there will probably be enough firepower behind to bring it back, but it will have a lasting impact as to how the race is controlled from there.

In 2016, we saw Kennaugh hold on from the original break until the flat 5km section that bridges the descent and the climb. Once he was caught, the impetus went from the peloton and a splinter group made it off of the front. As the majority of teams were represented, there was very little cohesion behind (although there was little up ahead too to be fair), the front group managed to gain a reasonable time gap. Our top two on the day ended up being from that selection and there is a possibility something like that happens again this year; where the “second in command” riders get up the road while the favourites stay behind and mark each other out.

Of course, the final option is that everything is held together until the final climb and that the best rider on the day wins. That’s what happened back in 2015 when Diego Rosa took off at 2.6km to go and was never seen again. To make that win even better, he managed to make the move in front of his own fan club!

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Similarly, it is the same option/race outcome that we had last year when Uran won.

So how will it pan out this year?

I’m not entirely sure, both the splinter group getting away or a main contender showdown are almost equally likely in my opinion. What is interesting is that we have a few of the big names for Saturday deciding to skip this race; Nibali, Uran, Woods, Bardet and Roglic to name a few. Will that make their teams ride more aggressively? Will other squads try to seize the opportunity and hold things together knowing some of the better guys aren’t here. We saw today that Pinot is in great form at the moment and Valverde was there where he needed to be too. A win for either of them would be great but I’m sure they’ll be confident enough of there form and might just have one eye on Saturday. Consequently, that tips it ever so slightly in favour of a splinter group getting away and fighting it out for the win so that’s the option I’ll go with.

Four to Watch

Like with my preview for Tre Valli Varesine, I’m just going to highlight some guys to keep an eye out for throughout the day and who will hopefully be active, even if they don’t win.

Tiesj Benoot.

After what seems like an injury plagued second half to the season, Benoot has performed well in the two one-day races he has completed since the Vuelta. He had a poor day at the Worlds but showed that there is still form there with a good 6th place in Paris Tours. A possible “what could have been day” had he not punctured and have to chase back on. Arriving at this race as co-leader with Wellens, I would expect them to animate the race on the first ascent of Superga. Despite his original career trajectory as a one-day Classics rider, Benoot has shown so far this season that he can more than handle his own on the climbs too. Will this be another “breakthrough” ride in that sense?

Diego Rosa.

Milan - Turin

A former winner of this race and with his fan club no doubt at the 2.6km to go mark (see above), the Sky rider will be motivated for this one tomorrow. However, the issue lies with the fact his form hasn’t exactly been sparkling as of late. He looked a bit lacklustre in Tre Valli and struggled to close a gap to the head of the race but he seems fairly positive in his latest Instagram post so who knows. One thing he has going for him is before that great win in 2015, his form was arguably equally as uninspiring so who knows. I’d expect him to go on that attack at some point but will he have enough to take the win? Probably not.

Gianluca Brambilla.

Oh so close to a great result in Emilia before he fell foul of the #HaugheyCurse and punctured at the bottom of the San Luca climb. Brambilla was so enraged at that he didn’t even bother to finish the race and if I’m honest, I don’t blame him – the win was his for the taking. Returning to racing today in TVV, he looked solid and finished in the chase group behind our winner, sprinting to 10th place. I would like to see him go on the attack early because I don’t think he has the legs to win it from the peloton, unless there is some looking around, but he seems in great shape just now and I wouldn’t underestimate him.

Jan Hirt.

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Now where did I put my overused “Hirt locker” joke? Astana arrive here with a strong squad that on paper has several options, with Fuglsang and Lopez as the arguable leaders. However, Hirt is a very good card to play and the Czech rider came out of the Vuelta with some decent shape; finishing a very respectable 17th at the Worlds. He’s not had many chances to chase his own results in what is his first year with the world tour outfit but he showed in 2017 just what he can do on the steep slopes. I think he is a danger man. Just waiting for that inevitable DNF now…

Prediction

A tactical race where a lot of the main players want to keep their powder dry for Saturday, allowing for a group to escape clear before the final ascent and fight out for the win. I’ll go with a lively Brambilla to make it two from two for Trek.

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Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow and in what manner? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

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Binckbank Tour 2017 Stage 7 Preview; Essen -> Geraardsbergen

Today’s Recap

A tough, miserable day in the saddle for the riders in which horrid conditions made a hard course even more challenging.

We saw the expected push on over the Saint-Roch which split up the peloton and a strong group formed at the head of the race. Things regrouped though before another, more decisive split on the next classified climb. Sagan pushed on and only Wellens was able to follow. Unfortunately for the World Champion, he suffered a puncture which completely ruined his day.

Wellens pushed on and he was soon joined by Dumoulin who bridged from the group behind. They worked well together and managed to hold of a strong chasing quintet that included Van Avermaet, Naesen, Valgren, Stuyven and Benoot.

At the finish Wellens opened up the sprint on the climb but Dumoulin would never come past him, with the Lotto Soudal rider taking the stage win.

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Whether that was because Dumoulin didn’t have the energy or didn’t want to after Wellens did a lot of the work, that’s for him to know!

Behind, Stuyven sprinted for third to keep himself somewhat in the GC fight.

Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders on the final day of racing.

The Route

A day that is all about the closing 50km.

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@LasterketaBurua

The first 135km of the day act as a build up for what is to come. With the wind and rain looking to have faded a bit by tomorrow, we probably won’t see any early action from the GC guys.

That could be good news for the breakaway riders.

As for the route itself, the riders will tackle the famous cobbled Muur twice, along with two passages of the Bosberg and three of the Denderoordberg.

All of the percentages and distances of the climbs are on the profile above so I don’t really want to go into too much detail about them.

There’s even an un-cobbled climb thrown in for good measure. It really is a tough parcours, especially when you consider it is all packed into the final quarter of the day!

The riders will face the final passage of the Denderoordberg at only 6km to go.

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A launchpad for a late attack?

The finish into Geraardsbergen is up a short, slightly cobbled climb; averaging just over 6% for 500m. A fitting way to end a hard day in the saddle!

How will the race pan out?

Normally a stage like this would be a GC battle where the contenders battle for bonus seconds.

However, the opening 130km are relatively easy so no selection can be made there. Consequently, there is no point of any GC teams pushing on at all. Unless of course someone high up the overall gets into the move, then Sunweb will have to keep it in check for Dumoulin.

Given their showing today and the gaps to those behind, the GC battle should be a two-horse race. Therefore, I think Dumoulin will be more than happy to let the break go to take up the bonus seconds so all he has to do is stick to the wheels of a flying Wellens.

The one variable that could change everything though is Sagan.

He was arguably the strongest rider today, bar the stage winner, and it was only an untimely mechanical that ruined his chances at going for the victory. Do we see another case of Angry Sagan tomorrow, where he gets his team to control the break and go crazy from 50km out? Possibly.

Once today’s stage had initially finished that’s what I thought would happen tomorrow. However, after thinking about it a bit more, I don’t think Sagan gets his whole team to chase to set up the stage win. Instead, if the opportunity presents itself then he’ll go for it and he will win the stage.

Yet, I think the more likely outcome is that we will see a breakaway prevail tomorrow.

So here we are again, playing…

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MyTwoPicksWorth™

Wout van Aert.

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After an untimely puncture on stage 5 took him out of contention, the cyclo-cross star lost some more time today. Was it a deliberate move, or is he just tired? I actually think it might be the former…maybe! Once he wasn’t able to follow the very best on the steep climbs, he’s conserved some energy to focus all his efforts on tomorrow. Now way out of the GC picture and no threat at all, he should be allowed the freedom to go in the early breakaway. Good on short, sharp climbs tomorrow’s profile looks great for him. It would be great to see him up the road in a World Tour race. With a fast finishing kick, he certainly has the speed to bring it home if he makes it to the finish line at the head of the race.

Tiesj Benoot.

So strong today, the Belgian appears to be feeling the benefits of “Tour legs”! He was instrumental in helping Wellens push on in the closing part of the race and acted as a very good anchor in the group that was pursuing his team-mate. Lotto may want him to stay back and help Wellens if they think their leader needs to win the stage to take GC. However, I think they’ll instead send Benoot up the road as a foil to either go for the win himself, or drop back from the break to help Wellens later on. I hope it is the former! A rider with so much potential and shown ability, it is amazing that he still hasn’t won a professional race yet. Could that be tomorrow?

Prediction

Yes.

Benoot to win!

Which only means one thing…

View this post on Instagram

Forza Tiesj Benoot! 🎉 @tiesj #ohn

A post shared by Sporza (@sporza.be) on

Betting

1pt WIN on them both;

Benoot @ 18/1

WVA @ 33/1

 

Thanks as always for reading and apologies this is a bit more abrupt than normal! Who do you think will win tomorrow and how? Will the break manage to stay away, or will the GC guys battle it out? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

Tour de France 2017 Stage 9 Preview; Nantua -> Chambéry

Today’s Recap

A crazy stage and I only saw the last 40km!

We had a big group (of 50 riders) finally escape after a lot of racing but it was eventually whittled down to 8 after the penultimate climb.

On the last climb of the day Calmejane launched a very strong attack that managed to see him hold on for the rest of the stage, despite getting cramp in the final few kilometres.

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Doing his YMCA impression

Gesink tried to follow the Frenchman on the climb but didn’t manage it. However, he was able to hold on ahead of the GC group, finishing 2nd on the day. A very impressive sprint from Guillaume Martin saw him pick up 3rd, with all of the GC riders coming home safely.

Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders tomorrow.

The Route

Arguably the toughest stage of the whole Tour.

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The day starts on a climb which is not good news for those struggling today! Split into two separate climbs, it really is just one long slog at 11km in length and averaging 5%. The steeper sections could see some more sprightly climbers get a gap on the bunch and I expect several riders to be dropped from the gun.

Once over the summit, the road continues to rise ever so slightly for 6kms before plunging down the other side. A short Cat-3 climb breaks up the descent, but again, the road continues to climb after that.

At 50km gone the road slowly rises again but it’s at 56.5km that the start of the first HC climb of the Tour begins. The Col de la Biche is a taster for what’s to come with its average gradient of 9% for 10.5km. A brute of a climb, I imagine the riders might give it too much respect and we could see a slow pace given what they have to face afterwards…

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The Grand Colombier is shorter than Biche, but averages almost 1% more, coming in at 9.9% for 8.5km. That even includes a kilometre at 3.4%! We could see a few of the GC riders in difficulty here if they are on an off day. With there being 50km from the summit to the start of the next climb, it will be interesting to see if we get any attacks from the overall favourites.

What a climb it is as well; the Mont du Chat is arguably one of the hardest in France.

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It ripped the peloton to shreds at the Dauphiné and that was after an easier stage than what we have tomorrow. With some accumulated fatigue from today’s racing there is a good chance we’ll get some reasonably large time gaps between the GC favourites.

The riders will face a very treacherous descent and 13km of flat until the finish line in Chambéry. Will this put off some of the GC riders from attacking?

Weather Watch

After having some glorious weather conditions over the past few days there is a chance things might turn sour tomorrow.

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Source: Wunderground

The above forecast is for Culoz which comes in the long stretch of flat road between the Colombier and Chat. A nagging head-wind will make the stage feel even longer tomorrow and could certainly hinder a breakaway or any GC rider that tries to attack from far out. Furthermore, with a good chance of rain/thunderstorms at some point, the technical descent off of Mont du Chat will be made even more treacherous.

How will the stage pan out?

The tactics of tomorrow’s stage are what I would call “fluid” as whatever I write here could be completely out of the window after 10km and the race situation will constantly change throughout the day.

One thing is for certain and that is that we will see a big fight to get into the breakaway. We’ll have a mix of stage hunters who will hope that they can hold on all the way to the finish and team-mates of GC riders sent up the road to help later on.

Will we get someone deemed too dangerous for the overall make the morning move and throw a spanner in the works and ruin the party for the break?

I’m really torn as to how the stage will play out. The first part of the stage is great to rip things up, but the 50km from Colombier to Chat is a real killer for any GC rider looking to go early. Furthermore, the longer flat section after the Chat isn’t great for any solo GC rider looking to put time into a group behind. Unless of course they happen to be a great TT rider!

The headwind also isn’t great for that as any team-mate coming back to do some work will drain their resources quicker. Although the headwind isn’t ideal for a break, if the GC riders are all together behind then it becomes almost irrelevant.

It will either be on full gas for the overall contenders from the start, or it will stall until later on in the day. With the possibility of rain in the stage and knowing just how tough the Mont du Chat is, I think it will be the latter.

Therefore, I think we will see a race on two fronts with the break fighting out for stage glory and GC guys going crazy a few minutes behind them. Time to play that game again…

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Break Candidates

A mixture of luck and good legs will see the riders make the break tomorrow. It will also depend on where it goes that as to who will be up there but they will certainly have to be a good climber to do so. I’ll throw a few names into the hat as to who could be there;

Robert Kiserlovski.

A rider who probably still wishes it was 2014, he has never really matched that season since. However, there were signs at the Giro that he was in some good form. In particular on stage 18 he did a shed load of work for Zakarin. A proper outsider, if he finds his legs then he can climb with the best. Or he could just hope that somehow a group of rouleurs makes it away!

Primoz Roglic. 

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The rider I cursed as my outside shot at a top 10 and first stage victory has had some terrible luck so far. Crashing on the opening day and taking a further two tumbles yesterday, he took today’s stage relatively “easy”. His meteoric rise this year certainly hasn’t gone un-noticed within the peloton and he’ll certainly be feared if he makes the move. Possibly still not the strongest climber on the really steep stuff compared to the current GC guys, he only has to beat his breakaway companions. One thing is for certain, he will make 30 seconds on every descent!

Steve Cummings.

 

Having won a stage at the past two Tour’s you wouldn’t bet against him winning another this year. Often the guardian at the back of the peloton, just rolling along, he normally picks one or two stages and targets them. Having shown some very impressive form recently after returning from injury, winning the UK National Championships double, he should have the horsepower to compete tomorrow. The steep gradients might not be ideal for him but he is strong enough to surprise. I didn’t expect to see him gain time on Nibali etc last year on the Aspin!

Tiesj Benoot.

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The young Belgian has come on leaps and bounds this season in regards to his proficiency on the long climbs. Finishing 12th on GC at the recent Dauphiné was a stand-out performance and he’s continued that progression here, beating the likes of Chaves and Kreuziger on 5. He lost a lot of time today but I think that was a deliberate ploy so that he can get more leeway to hunt stages now. It wouldn’t be a bad stage to take your first pro win!

 

Prediction

Anything could happen and nothing that does happen will surprise me!

I think we could see the break stay away after things calm down between the Colombier and the Chat. With an easier day today, I think he’s been eyeing up a big performance tomorrow. Benoot to take his first pro win!

This also means I can share my favourite cycling related instagram video…

View this post on Instagram

Forza Tiesj Benoot! 🎉 @tiesj #ohn

A post shared by Sporza (@sporza.be) on

Betting

Already tweeted out my selections earlier.

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Still available at;

Roglic 125/1 (Unibet)

Cummings 80/1 (Bet365)

Benoot 125/1 (PP)

Kiserlovski 300/1 (Unibet)

 

Thanks as always for reading! Who do you think will win tomorrow’s crazy stage? Will the break hold on or will it be a day for the GC guys?! It should be an open day of racing! Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

 

 

 

De Brabantse Pijl 2017 Preview

De Brabantse Pijl 2017 Preview

With the cobbled classics now finished, the peloton’s attention now turns to the Ardennes with the “warm-up” event of De Brabantse Pijl.

However, it’s offensive to just call it a warm-up race as it is an exciting race in its own right!

Last year after some probing and strong attacks throughout the day, it all came down to a charge up the final climb from an elite group of five. Vakoc stormed up it, dropping everyone, and holding on to the line to take what was his third win of the season.

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It was a good day for me as I had Vakoc at 33/1. I’m not sure we’ll see those type of prices on him again though, but I may be wrong. You’ll just have to find out at the end of this!

Let’s have a look at what’s in store for the riders this year.

The Route

More of the same as we saw in the 2016 edition with a route that remains mainly unchanged, although this year the race is 6km shorter.

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A relatively tough day out in the saddle with 26 climbs, some of which are cobbled. Although there is more often than not space to avoid the cobbles themselves and go up the paved section at the side!

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The climbs on the day aren’t too tough, but if they are ridden aggressively gaps certainly can be made. Almost as important is the flat section just after the summit, because riders will be on the limit. Last year the winning move was made at the 4km to go mark, right at the top of the penultimate climb.

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The Bora rider was unable to follow the five out ahead once they rounded the corner and that was race over.

I’m not going to run through all of the climbs individually, but there is a nifty website that lists all 26 of them that you can view here!

The final climb of the day, Schavei, is 500m long and averages roughly 6%.

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There is time for a regrouping once over the top, but on the contrary, riders can maintain a gap all the way to the finish line.

Will it be a reduced sprint or solo winner this year?

Well, there is one factor that could have an influence…

Weather Watch

Yep, you guessed it; more racing in Belgium and more windy conditions!

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Source: Windfinder

With a constant and fairly strong Westerly wind, the riders will face a variety of wind directions as they go through the race.  Starting mainly with a cross-headwind, before some cross winds, then a cross-tail on the run in to the closing circuit.

As a viewer this has amped up my excitement for this race even more, not so much as a preview writer though because it adds another element of unpredictability to it all. I’m sure the peloton will have a similar view with some wind-natives licking their lips at the prospect.

How will the race pan out?

Before I had looked at the forecast I thought the race would be an attacking one this year, with the peloton continuing their aggressive racing from the cobbles classics onto the lumpier events.

The wind should ensure that it is aggressive and there will be plenty of teams looking to take advantage and I think we’ll see some large splits out on the road before we reach our final circuit.

Which in turn should make the last 60km of the race even more attacking because there in theory should be less team-mates to control things.

Or at least I’m hoping so!

Contenders

Quick Step come here with two big favourites in the form of Vakoc and Gilbert. The reigning champion looked good in Catalunya, building some nice form for his assault on the Ardennes. A brute of a rider, he really comes into his own on this type of terrain and certainly has a chance to double up tomorrow. Of course in Gilbert they have a rider who is on exceptional form. He’s won this race twice in the past (2011/2014/2017?) so knows what is required here! They have some strong domestiques and I expect them to be one of the main teams to try to split things up in the wind, hoping to drop the “sprinters”.

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QS aren’t the only strong Belgian team here, Lotto Soudal also have a stacked team with them! I imagine Wellens and Benoot will be team leaders and they are a duo that can certainly challenge for the race win. The former has had a quieter part in his season recently but he looked good following the moves on the stage into San Sebastian in Pais Vasco, and I think he’ll go well this coming week. His lack of explosivity is a downfall, but he is sure to go on the attack at some point. If no one follows quickly, then he could be tough to bring back!

I was disappointed to see Benoot not picked for Paris Roubaix after he has had a terrible cobbled classics campaign due to bad luck. This type of course suits him though and he is much more explosive than his team-mate and I think he’s a dark horse for this race.

Matthews has a great chance to finally win this race after being close on several occasions. In cracking form, his 6th on the TT in Pais Vasco was incredible, he might approach this race differently than in previous years. Normally would hold off for the sprint, but this year he might have to attack as his team doesn’t look that great. However, I fear for him in the wind!

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His old team Orica have a few good options to play tomorrow. In Gerrans and Impey they have two strong riders who can follow attacks but also pack a fast sprint after a tough day. I can’t see them chasing everyone down like they did last year!

BMC have a team packed full of young talent who will be looking to impress, lead by a relative veteran compared to his team-mates; Ben Hermans. After a barnstorming start to the season, he’s went off the boil recently but will be hoping to go well in the Ardennes so he should be getting back to his best shape here. If not, keep an eye out for Vliegen as a Kirby inspired, “cheeky side bet”.

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Bahrain bring with them a team to support Gasparotto and Colbrelli. Well, when I say support they might be there for the first 100km. The two Italians can mix it up in the sprint after a tough day and both finished in the top 6 last year. Gasparotto has been disappointing this year and has recently returned from a training camp so it will be interesting to see how he goes. Conversely, Colbrelli has been going well for most of the year so you would expect him to decline in form soon, but that probably won’t happen until after Amstel. Like Matthews, I fear for both of them in the windy conditions!

I don’t think Coquard will have a chance this year.

A few other, some less well-known, names to conjure with are Haas and Sbaragli (Dimension Data), Meurisse (Wanty), Bouet (Fortuneo) and Tusveld (Roompot).

Prediction

We’ll get a hectic first half of the race before we get to the circuit and the peloton will be split in the wind. That will then make the closing laps even more aggressive than normal and luck will be as important as form, and so will having strong team-mates.

I’ll go for a rider who’s been down on luck recently, but that will change here. He’s a great punchy classics man and this route suits him perfectly, but will just have to hope Gilbert isn’t the QuickStep representative up front…

Benoot to win his first pro race!

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It also gives me a good opportunity to share my favourite cycling related Instagram post…

View this post on Instagram

Forza Tiesj Benoot! 🎉 @tiesj #ohn

A post shared by Sporza (@sporza.be) on

Betting

Hoping #WinningWednesdays can continue…

1pt EW Benoot @40/1 with Bet365

0.5pt EW Vliegen @28/1 with Bet365

 

Thanks for reading as always and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win the race and how will they do it?! Amstel men’s and women’s previews will be next for me this weekend. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

 

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Preview

E3 Harelbeke 2017 Preview

E3 Harelbeke has the illustrious history of being named after a road. Don’t let its dull naming history put you off though, as this race is often heralded as a “mini Flanders” and the action normally lives up to that billing!

Last year saw Kwitakowski and Sagan attack with 30km to go and they were not to be seen again! The Pole caught Sagan napping in the sprint, taking it up early and ended up winning with relative ease.

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The recent MSR winner is not here to defend his title, but we still have a whole host of talented riders looking to take centre stage.

First though, let’s have a look at what’s in store for the them.

The Route

A day packed with hills and cobbles. My kind of race!

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Profile once again courtesy of @LasterketaBurua.

Like Dwars, the day slowly builds to a crescendo, although we do have some difficulties earlier in the stage. The first challenge of the day is the Oude Kruisberg and from there we have an obstacle every 10 kilometres or so on average.

However, the decisive point of the race will probably be between the 45km-35km to go with the triple threat of; the Kapelberg; Paterberg; and Oude Kwaremont.

If there is no made on the first two climbs, there will certainly be an explosion on the Kwaremont.

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View the Strava segment here.

The 4% average gradient on Strava doesn’t do it justice because as you can see in the image above, it’s mainly flat or false-flat for the first 600m. It then pitches up from 0.8km to 1.5km, averaging 7.9%. Remember, this is all on cobbles as well! If you’re not on a good day here then you’ll be out the back in no time.

Once over the Kwaremont the bunch will have little time for rest as they’ll soon be on the Karnemelkbeekstraat at just over 30km to go. This is where last year’s duo made their move!

From there, we only have one more hill and cobbled section so it will be a frantic chase home and run to the line in Harelbeke.

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It’s not an overly difficult run in but the twisting nature of it does give the group up ahead the advantage of often being out of sight.

Contenders

Without the defending champion here, I guess we better start with that average cyclist who finished 2nd last year…

Peter Sagan obviously comes into this race as favourite, like he does for almost every one day race he starts! His team looks fairly poor, but Postlberger looked good in Dwars so maybe he can protect Sagan for a while. However, the World Champion is used to riding races unaided. The one problem with Sagan being Sagan, is that very few riders will want to ride with him in a group that might be chasing the leaders. Therefore he will be leant on to do a lot of the work. Yet, if he’s in a similar mood to his San Remo outing then he may well just attack himself and his opposition will have to be in exceptional form to follow!

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Quick Step will be hoping to use strength in numbers to beat the Slovak and everyone else. They bring their crack squad of classics riders with them, although Lampaert will sit this one out. In Boonen, Gilbert, Stybar, Terpstra and even Trentin they have potential winner candidates. With this type of parcours though, I would have to favour Stybar and Terpstra as their best options. They both looked very strong in Dwars to attack from the 3rd to the 2nd group on the road, halting that groups progress and helping their team-mates ahead build up a lead. Stybar looked good, but I think the Dutch rider looked even better, bridging across to his team-mate relatively comfortable even though Stybar was going full gas.

Greg Van Avermaet will be hoping to repeat his Omloop victory earlier in the season tomorrow. After looking very strong in Strade, he was a bit disappointing in Tirreno and MSR. His BMC team looks strong, but I’m still not convinced by how many of them can be there at the end and offer much support. Nonetheless, as one of the best classics riders in the peloton, he certainly can’t be discounted!

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Sky bring a solid squad but it will no doubt be up to the diamond duo of Rowe and Stannard for them. Both riders are exceptional on their day but I’m sure they would have hoped for some worse weather! They each won a stage in the Herald Sun Tour but the Welshman performed much better in the opening semi-classics. Sky have not finished off the podium in the past three editions, can they make it 4-in-a-row tomorrow?

After a disappointing Dwars, Trek bring Degenkolb and Stuyven into the team. It’s good to see the German back to near his best and he certainly can contend here. My one concern is that he struggled to follow Sagan in MSR on the Poggio, maybe Paris Roubaix is more suited to him than a Flanders style course. Stuyven has looked very impressive this season so far and is certainly living up to the hype surrounding him. Having numbers near the pointy end of the race will be important for any team, but Trek should have at least two. Felline might even turn himself into a third option.

Lotto Soudal are another team that had a disappointing Dwars. They only had Wallays up the road but he wasn’t able to follow the big move when it counted. Benoot and Gallopin were left frustrated behind, with the young Belgian sprinting to 7th place. I think he’ll go a lot better tomorrow! Could he win his first professional race?

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In the three Belgian races he’s competed in so far this season, Naesen has finished in the top 10 of them all. He was terribly unlucky in Dwars with a mechanical but showed just how strong he is right now, managing to get back to the second group and sprint for 6th. With Vandenbergh by his side, they can certainly roll over a few hills and cobbles!

There are obviously lots of other riders who could have a chance, such as Vanmarcke, Durbridge and Lutsenko but I think I’ll stop the list there as I could go on for a while.

Prediction

A very tough race where numbers will once again be important. Sagan will more than likely be forced to do a lot of the work chasing others and to be honest, I don’t think he cares for winning this race. So he might just call some riders’ bluff and sit on. Conversely, he could easily just romp away from everyone!

Nonetheless, I don’t think he wins.

Instead, it will be Niki Terpstra who this time will solo away from the opposition.

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I was impressed with the way he was riding in Tirreno, and have had him shortlisted for this race (and Flanders next weekend) since then. His tandem attack with Stybar has convinced me that his form is in the right place, and I think he can make it two from two for Quick Step, and everyone will forget about their poor opening weekend in February!

Betting

Other than Terpstra there are two riders I want on my side and after Wednesday, I’m being a bit gung-ho with the stakes. The odds are shorter than Lampaert after all!

2pts WIN Terpstra @ 16/1 with Bet365 (would take 12s)

1pt WIN Naesen @ 28/1 with B365 (would take 22s)

1pt WIN Benoot @ 25/1 with B365 (would take 20s)

Prices might be better else where but I can’t be bothered looking!

Also,

1pt WIN Terpstra for Flanders @ 25/1 with various bookmakers

Thanks as always for reading and as usual any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win E3 and how? Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.

 

Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

Strade Bianche 2017 Preview; Siena -> Siena

One of my favourite races of the year, hands down! It has the mix of everything really; awesome parcours; great start-list; amazing scenery; and some pretty aggressive racing.

Cancellara broke the heart of Brambilla last year, and managed to out-fox Stybar into the final corner, taking a quite excellent win.

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Cancellara is obviously not here this year, so that leaves the door open for a new victor or one of the three former winners that are here to regain their crown.

Let’s have a look at what’s in store for them.

The Route

I’m going to make this section a lot, lot shorter than normal because there are already several previews out there with this information so I don’t want to bore you with it again!

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There you go…

Basically lots of short sharp punchy hills, although there are a couple of longer ones earlier on, interspersed with gravel sections. Rolling terrain for most of the day means there is little time to rest and the action is always on.

A tough closing 20km can see someone get away solo, but there is also the possibility that it all comes down to a sprint up to the Piazza del Campo!

One thing that may have a say in that is the…

Weather

After the brutal conditions in Samyn mid-week, I’m sure the peloton would have been hoping for something less miserable here. The fans certainly want the opposite and it looks as if the weather gods are going to appease the crowds.

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Weather in Siena (Source: Wunderground)

Nothing concrete but there is a very good chance we’ll get rain at some point during the race, which would make it even more of a spectacle. I’m sure a lot of you will remember the Giro in 2010…

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It probably won’t get as torrid as that, but even a smattering of rain could cause some issues for the riders!

Anyway, who’s got a chance of taking the crown this weekend?

Contenders

Where better to start than with the current world champion, Peter Sagan. The Slovak shredded the race to bits in Omloop last Saturday and once again was in the thick of the action on Sunday, managing to win Kuurne. He clearly is in very good form at the moment and he has gone well here in the past. My one issue with him is that he always seems to struggle on the final climb up to the Piazza so he’ll need to ride everyone off of his wheel before then. Not impossible, but I can’t see it happening. Am I being too bold discounting him?

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After me playing up his chances for Omloop, Zdenek Stybar, was left bitterly disappointed at the end of the race, visibly shaking his head as he crossed the line. That to me indicates that he knew he could and should have been a key protagonist in the outcome of the race. Held up in the crash that took out Boonen, he tried attacking later on in the race to bridge across to the lead group but couldn’t manage it. I’m sure he’ll want to bounce back this weekend in a race that suits him very well, he did win it in 2015 after all! With Brambilla and Vakoc, he has a strong support team which could very well be crucial.

Picking up the win in Omloop while still not at 100% form shows what a great cyclist Greg Van Avermaet is. The Belgian has done fairly well here in the past but hasn’t managed to win this race yet, with the closest being a second place finish to Stybar in 2015. Good on short, steep climbs and rough terrain, he has all of the characteristics to win this race. Yet, like Sagan, I just have a feeling he won’t and I’m not sure why. BMC do have a very strong team with them and an in-form Hermans could be a very useful second card to play in a tactical race.

Without Cancellara, Trek will turn to Fabio Felline as their main charge for this race. After an explosive start to his season, winning Il Laigueglia, he’s followed that up with a 5th place in the TT at Andalucia and a 4th at Omloop last weekend. This race should suit him perfectly and if he can follow the best over the gravel, he certainly has a very good chance up the punchy climb to the Piazza.

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Sky arrive here with a very solid squad; Kwiatkowski, Rosa and Puccio all have a chance of going well. The Pole seems to slowly be returning to the rider he once was before he joined Sky, finishing 2nd on GC in Algarve earlier in February. However, he still didn’t seem in tip-top shape so this race might be too early for him. On the other hand, Rosa looked very strong in Andalucia and had he not been working for others (again!), could have finished higher up himself. He seems to love one-day racing in Italy and may very well go on to win here, but he’ll need to come to the line alone! Puccio is a bit of a wild-card, but this is his home race and he always manages a fairly decent result here. Well, apart from last year when I had backed him and he had 3 mechanicals while in the front group. I won’t put the #HaugheyCurse on him this year, but I shall be watching with interest.

Benoot and Wellens will lead the charge for Lotto Soudal. Both riders are capable of winning here if they get a bit of luck, but both will need a different type of race to play out. Benoot will be the one happier waiting until the finish line whereas Wellens is much more likely to go on the attack from far out. He’s certainly a danger if given too much leeway!

I’m really intrigued by the selection that Astana bring to this race, because on paper it looks a very strong, well-rounded team. They have a former winner in the shape of Moser and a podium finisher with Gatto. Not to mention Amstel Gold runner-up Valgren, solid one-day racer and climber Sanchez, and Grand Tour winner Aru. The last of those makes his second appearance at this race after finishing 20th here way back in 2013. Often slated for his one-day racing, he’s not as bad at these types of races as he’s made out to be in my opinion, and I’m hoping to be pleasantly surprised by Aru tomorrow. The race only being 175km certainly helps him.

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FDJ arrive with a solid squad and it seems to be the same riders that are following Pinot around all year. Thibaut himself has had a good start to the season, picking up a very impressive stage win in Andalucia. Anyone who managed to beat Contador there must be going well! Making his debut in this race, he might struggle with some of the surfaces but I think his form will overcome that and he is my dark horse for the win. His team-mate Reichenbach is another good outside candidate if we get a very tactical race where the “second string” riders get sent up the road and manage to end up staying away. Like Pinot, he was also impressive in Andalucia and can’t be discounted.

Roglic, Haas, Dumoulin and Vanmarcke could all go well with a bit of luck.

Prediction

Like my women’s preview (shameless plug, view it here) I’ve had this rider in mind all week for this race. Unlike that preview though, I have had my doubts about him but that’s been purely based off of his odds being shorter than I would have liked. Nonetheless, after much deliberation I still think he’ll take the victory, capitalising on some good early season form. If we get bad conditions, that makes it even better for him. Stybar to win!

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Betting

As mentioned above, I was almost backing out of this one purely because I would have hoped for something like 10/1 on Stybar. But the more I think about it, the 6-7/1 on offer in places is still good value IMO.

Stybar 2pts WIN @7/1 with PaddyPower (would take 6/1 available elsewhere)

I tweeted these two out yesterday after prices were released but they have subsequently been shortened;

Pinot 0.25pts EW @200/1 with Bet365 (would still take 125/1 with PP or the 100/1 with William Hill)

Reichenbach 0.25pts EW @ 300/1 with Bet365 (would still take the 200/1 with PP or the 150/1 widely available)

I don’t really like any of the H2H available at the moment. Might change my mind later.

 

Once again, thanks for reading and any feedback is greatly appreciated. Who do you think will win this incredible race? I’ll be back again tomorrow with a Paris-Nice GC and Stage 1 preview so keep an eye out for them. Anyway,

Those were My Two Spokes Worth.